Guest article from stacyreuille.com
What is mental health? For many this question gets answered with the response of “not mental illness,” which is the way many people view health — a lack of illness. But a lack of illness isn’t a plethora of health. It’s just a lack of dysfunction or pathology. Health is more complicated.
Mental health is about a balance between all the things we have going on in our lives. A balance between good stressors and rest, a balance between alone time and time with loved ones, a balance between doing and being.
Many struggle with these balances. They have plenty going on in their lives, but don’t have balance between the aspects of “have to dos” and “want to dos,” which leads to a sense of overwhelm and life becoming more burdensome rather than joyful and buoyant.
I work with so many people who struggle to find joy in life. They feel like their calendar is taken up with commitments for family, friends, work, and others but not themselves. They end up feeling overwhelmed, over committed, and depleted instead of excited to get things done and enjoy time resting and restoring.
Over time, these burdens, and the heavy sensations that accompany them, begin to steal the joy and excitement from life’s daily routines. As a result, people end up feeling lethargic. This lethargy is caused by the nervous system over producing stress chemicals. They’re unmotivated because the calendar is full of things they’re not looking forward to doing, and they feel bad about themselves because it seems as though they are failing all over the place as a result of being unmotivated and under excited about commitments.
These negative feeling states can lead to a sense of “what’s the point anyway” and depression may set in, followed by worry that things won’t get done, the to-do list will never go away, and that others are judging the poor progress toward goals. Hello Anxiety.
The yo-yo experience that follows steals even more joy and excitement from our lives and keeps us living in the past (depression) thinking of what we didn’t accomplish or what was better “back then.” In addition, we bounce to living in the future (anxiety) while worrying about what might be coming down the pipeline. As a result of these chronic states, we find our physical health tanking and the cycle becomes even more difficult.
However … there is a way out.
To begin reclaiming your life you must be willing to let go. Let go of expectations others have put upon you. Let go of expectations you have put upon yourself. Let go of an unrealistic timeline to complete tasks, and let go of what others consider successful.
Most of us struggle to let go because what we envision for ourselves is tied to our identity. We have crafted a story about who we are and who we aren’t based on what we do, think, feel, and project into the world. Having a personal narrative is healthy, however it becomes problematic when we aren’t honoring our own voice. When we start filling our calendar with items other people want us to do, we give up our own path. When we follow a schedule based on other people’s expectations, needs, wants, and direction, we lose connection to our true self and we often end up overdoing. This leads to that exhausted feeling I spoke of above.
But you say … “I have to take care of my family, my work projects, my own accomplishments and goals. How can I just let go”? This is true, your life is most likely made up of many things that compete for your attention. It’s true that you can’t completely let go of taking care of your children, however you can change how you see this task. If you begin to shape a narrative that says “I am so grateful to be caring for my child today, I want them around, and I like having their things around our home” you will be more likely to see taking care of your children as a positive, rather than a burden. This creates a different physical manifestation in your nervous system, thus keeping you more physically healthy and energetic. This in turn makes it easier to accomplish the goals and dreams you do have.
As you work through tasks, commitments, and personal goals, it can be helpful to take an honest inventory of how much time each task takes, how excited you are to work on it, and what steps are needed to complete each task.
This allows you to balance your day between items you want to do and still feel accomplished by working on things that move your life forward or connect you to others in your communities.
Here is a worksheet template you can use to do this inventory:
As you work through the table above, make sure to include things like laundry, watering plants, and other mundane household chores. Include meal prep, cooking, and clean up, as all these tasks take our time too. Include things like taking care of your skin, hair, and nails, reading, surfing the Internet for fun, and watching TV/movies/listening to music if those are ways you enjoy your spare time. These things also take your time.
Next begin to rate your priorities for each task. Remember to consider the consequences of task completion. I don’t always want to go to work, but I do like the comforts my paycheck allows. When we begin to think about the benefits of our tasks it gets easier to see what we can let go of and what are the “have to dos” we want to keep. This also helps us see where we can delegate tasks or where we might want to spend more or less time on a task-step during our day. By allowing ourselves to honestly inventory our life tasks and by making a good effort to turn our minds toward the positives in those tasks, it gets easier to see what can be let go of.
Finally, we must schedule our tasks well. If you have a positive to do list (one you want to do, one you feel is realistic, and balanced), but aren’t working on the things you feel are important to you or will move your life forward, you will be left feeling depleted and without energy.
We can have a lot of things going on in our lives and feel well balanced when we are focused on things we have excitement about — at least a little bit everyday. This helps us balance our day between those tasks we may not like (for me: laundry) with those we do like (for me: reading). When I can get a little bit of fun reading in, I always feel better about my day. Those are the days I rate high on my daily check in, and I know it’s because I feel like I am accomplishing what I want to get done while also having time to feed my soul.
Today, think about how you can balance your life and create more harmony between the tasks you have to do and those you love to do. Learn to let go of other’s expectations and set realistic timelines for yourself. Let go of anything that doesn’t fit in your timeframe right now. If it’s a task you feel is important you will either find the time for it now or it can wait. There will be time to complete more later, so today begin by taking an honest inventory of what you want to do, have to do, and then begin letting go.
Dr. Stacy Reuille-Dupont is a licensed clinical psychologist and licensed addiction counselor. You can learn more about Dr. Stacy at www.stacyreuille.com or check out her blog at www.stacyrd.com where she writes about the intersection of mind and movement to help empower people to live happily embodied, have optimal health, and engage fully in life.
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